The Institute, in conjunction with the University of North Carolina Press, is pleased to announce the publication of Cécile Fromont’s The Art of Conversion: Christian Visual Culture in the Kingdom of Kongo.

Fredrika J. Teute, Editor of Publications

The Art of Conversion is the first scholarly analysis of the Kongo Christian visual culture emerging around 1500 after the African kingdom’s contact with the Portuguese.

This work ( offers an African perspective on the Atlantic world. Drawing on a broad range of mostly unpublished images and material objects, Fromont highlights the deep engagement of Kongo elites with the Atlantic economy and resulting politics for close to four centuries. By embracing Christianity, the kingdom’s leaders resisted European colonization efforts and remained sovereign until the late nineteenth century. Yet Fromont also pays attention to the ravages of the slave trade and contextualizes the religious worldview of central African men and women enslaved in the Americas.

In her analysis, Fromont uses an original framework—spaces of correlation—for interpreting the religious, political, and artistic innovations through which the people of the Kongo embraced the visual, material, and intellectual novelties brought to their shores. Her nuanced approach highlights dialogue and cultural exchange between equals while also taking into account power disparities, thereby deepening scholarly comprehension of the cross-cultural interactions that shaped the early modern world.

“Swords, crosses, caps, red sashes, pendants, and staffs whirled across the sacred landscape of early Kongo in celebration and service of a new Christianity. This book masterfully depicts the blended visual and material world that elite Kongolese created as they shaped their encounter with Catholic Europe and forged a place for themselves in a global Christendom. Kongo Christianity appears here for the first time as a highly innovative, aesthetic practice that rewove connections between life and death, king and people, kingdom and world.”

--Catherine A. Molineux, Vanderbilt University

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Image Credit

Nova Totius Americae Tabula by Pieter Schenk, ca. 1680, Amsterdam. Black and white engraving with period hand color on laid paper. Courtesy of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.